The Reefs off Durban are categorised as rocky reef because they have been not been formed by coral growth, but rather by the erosion of sandstone. There are three areas of reef that are dived:
Vetchie’s Pier – Depth: 1m to 6m
Description: This is the unofficial “house reef” of Durban Undersea Club! The reef is man made pier that was constructed in 1860 and named after Captain James Vetch. The reef is made up of rubble and curves in southerly direction toward the North Pier of the harbour. The Pier is approximately 500 long and 50m wide and is a comfortable shore entry dive. “The Block” is the highest point and marks the end of the reef. Vetchie,s is home to a huge variety of fish and invertebrates, including a number of species of hard corals, huge numbers of juvenile fish from numerous species of wrasse, butterfly, angel, damsel an and surgeon fish. Vetchie’s has one of the highest concentrations and varieties of Morey eels than any reef off Durban – which can be a bit un- nerving for first timers to the reef. Potentially more dangerous are the numerous scorpion fish that stay put even when one is about to touch them inadvertently.
Additional Information: The outside of the reef has got the biggest concentration of fish but is open to breaking waves on the low tide. The best time to dive the reef is on the high tide, as it allows one to cross over the top side of the reef. The curvature of the reef makes an entry on the outside and an exit on the inside the best profile for a dive on this reef. Best conditions on Vetchies are during and after a strong South Westerly wind. The South Wester pushes clean water into the Vetchies Harbour and makes for top to bottom conditions on the reef. The inside of the reef makes a spectacular snorkel dive for the less adventurous, particularly on calm days at spring low tide. The reef shelters the inside which means the visibility is often very good. In spring and early summer, the rubble of the inside of Vetchies serves as a nursery ground for hordes of fishes. If you are snorkelling, make sure you are fit and that you are not diving with a fin with a stiff blade. Swimming on the surface for long distances can result in cramp. If you are doing a scuba dive, make sure you return back to shore upon reaching half your SPG pressure so as not run out of air –it is no fun having to swim back to shore on the surface in full scuba kit. Always carry a snorkel when diving this reef.
Limestone Reef – Depth: 3m on the top to 7m on the bottom
Description: This reef runs parallel to the shore. The reef is transected by the very end of Vetches’ Pier and extends in a North easterly direction. As with most of the reefs off Durban, this is a ledge dive. The top of reef is flat and sits at 3m below the surface. At its mid section the ledge is at about 3m. There are a few holes and crevices that require close inspection – there are often Coral Banded Shrimps, Lion fish, juvenile angel and butterfly fish. In the summer months after the Umgeni has flooded, an observant diver can find golf balls which have been hit into the river from Windsor golf Course.
Additional Information: Limestone can be dived by way of shore entry. Enter on the outside of Vetchie’s until you reach a pole approximately 3m long. Swim across the sand and you will reach Limestone. Always dive this reef with a marker buoy! Limestone is one of the reefs fisherman visit to catch live bait. If you are snorkelling, make sure you are fit and that you are not diving with a fin with a stiff blade. Swimming on the surface for long distances can result in cramp. If you are doing a scuba dive, make sure you return back to shore upon reaching half your SPG pressure so as not run out of air –it is no fun having to swim back to shore on the surface in full scuba kit. Always carry a snorkel when scuba diving on this reef.
Harlequin Reef – Depth: 30m to 35m
Description: So named because of the Harlequin Goldie that inhabits this reef. The reef could actually be a wreck – potentially an old concrete barge. The reef looks like a bread loaf sitting on the sand. There is a large anchor and chain. This dive can only be attempted in perfect conditions – good visibility and no current are prerequisites. It is one of the few dive sites in the world where you can see the Harlequin Goldie.
Additional Information: A deep dive that should only be attempted by the experienced, trained and adventurous diver. H valves on cylinder, advanced Nitrox qualification and bailout cylinders (focus on redundancy) are recommended qualifications and equipment needed for this dive.
The Harlequin Goldie (Pseudanthias connneli) is endemic to the coast of KZN. This uncommon goldie was thought to only inhabit wrecks off KZN. The fish has however been encountered on reef off the Bluff (Harlequin Reef), NO.1 and a few isolated reefs in Phumula / Rocky Bay area of KZN south Coast.
This area of reef derives its name from fisherman who consider this the No.1 fishing spot of Durban. No.1 is situated approximately 5km out to sea. Whereas this reef is extensive, most of the diving takes place to the South of the Bell Buoy that demarcates the shipping lane/entrance to the harbour.
This is probably one of the most challenging and rewarding dive sites on the KZN coast. The depth, the variation in visibility, strong currents and proximity to the shipping lanes make this dive is an advanced, if not technical dive.
Nitrox is highly recommended, along with a deploy buoy. Safety stops at 10m should be conducted in order to assist with decompression and as a preventative measure against in and out going ships. (it is not uncommon to have ships travelling to within 100m of the buoy line!)
In terms of diving conditions, this is the most consistent and most dramatic dive site off Durban with 10m drop offs, immense caves and variety of reef and pelagic fish, corals and marine artefacts.
What can you expect to see: Manta’s, eagle ray’s , electric rays, butterfly rays, sword fish, marlin, king fish, baardman , daga salmon, frog fish, paper fish, tiger angel fish (discovered and named after Dennis King who is a member of the club), zambezi sharks , black Tip , copper sharks , guitar fish , whip gobies , fire gobies, lizard fish are just some of the fish you are bound to encounter on No.1 on any dive.
Black Coral trees – some over 2m tall, whip corals, fan corals, tiger anemones and strawberry anemones colonise the reef and host invertebrates and small fish.
In terms of Marine artefacts, huge ships anchors and chains, rudders and ammunition lie scattered on the reef.
Artillery Reef – Depth: 25 to 30m
Description: Artillery shells from the dump are sporadically encountered here… look on the sand and inside the cracks and crevices. This is one of the areas of no.1 where you can swim in any direction and lock into some interesting reef.
Additional Information: The ammunition that is found in this area is from the Ammunition dump that is off the Bluff. If you find a shell it is advisable to let it be as most the ammunition that has been dumped is unexploded!
Raggies – Depth: 22m on the top of the ledge and 30m on the sand
Description: This is large ledge that has been under cut to form two large caves. The caves are often inhabited by Ragged Tooth sharks as they migrate up and down the eastern coastline of SA. There is a anchor chain that runs parallel to the entire ledge.
Additional Information: frog fish, tiger angel fish, lizard fish and whip gobies along with the ragged Tooth sharks s is why you want to dive this reef.
Nev’s Ledge – Depth: 20m to 30m
Description: The ledge begins with a 8m drop off and opens up into a mini amphitheatre. The mini amphitheatre has an old Dan forth anchor and a rudder. There is a number of caves and swim through’s along the ledge.
Additional Information: raggie scorpion fish, pipe fish, razor fish and flap nose hound sharks along with incredible topography of this reef are the reason you want to do this dive.
Eskom – Depth: 20 to 27m
Description: a shallow reef that is dominated by a large pinnacle that stands to attention on a relatively flat reef. There are coils and coils of cable that are scattered all over the reef which inspired the name Eskom. Additional Information: Swim in any direction on this reef and you will be rewarded with an interesting section.
Bat Reef – Depth: 22m on the top and 27m on the sand
Description: This reef is a pinnacle that extends like a large finger from 27m. Wrapped around the pinnacle is an anchor chain with the anchor out on the sand. The pinnacle is surrounded by gullies and caves that host a large variety of butterfly, wrasse, goldies, angelfish and clown trigger fish. There is also a large population of bat fish here –hence the name sake. Lookout for whip gobies, long nose hawk fish and crabs in the Black Coral trees.
Additional Information: Best dived in calm conditions – whereas a drift dive on No.1 is always exciting, a strong current will not allow you to get where you want to be.
Dave’s Cave – Depth: 27m on the sand
Description: An isolated reef that juts out of the sand. The isolated nature of this reef makes for intense concentration of pelagic and tropical fish. This is one of the southern most sections of reef dived on No.1. There is an isolated cave that is home to daga salmon and baardman which sift through the sand in search of invertebrates.
Additional Information: Not an easy dive in a strong current due to the isolate nature of the reef. This reef is very popular with the fisherman due to the daga and baardman that are found here. Look on the sand for rays and paper fish.
This area of reef derives its name from the large amount of blood and offal that clouded the water during the days of the whaling off Durban. The reefs lie close to shore on the Bluff in relatively shallow water. The dive sites are in areas of the reef structure where the sandstone bedrock has been eroded in order to form ledges and caves.
What is there to see:
The reef boasts a variety of corals and fish life with some of the more interesting finds being the leafy scorpion fish, the pine apple fish, banded pipefish, and frog fish. Under the ledges one often finds the flap nose hound shark, moray’s and turtles. From July through to the September, divers can encounter Ragged Tooth Sharks as they follow their annual migration through to the warmer northern reefs of Sodwana and its surrounds.
Birthday Ledges – Depth: 14m to 18m
Description: A sandstone ledge that faces out to sea. It is approximately 14m on the top of the ledge and 18m at its deepest. The Bday Ledges is situated off “the fence” off the Bluff. The dive starts with a cave. Swimming north, with the ledge on the divers left shoulder; divers will encounter gullies and little holes. This is the premier dive spot on the Bluff and was discovered by one of the local divers on his birthday in 2002 –hence the name sake! Frog fish, paper fish, raggie scorpion fish, broad barred lionfish, moorish idols, turtles, pipe fish, emperor angel fish, semi circle angel fish, potato bass, pineapple fish. The top of the reef is covered by red thistle coral and there are various hard corals and tube worms.
Additional Information: Take your time on this reef! The more time you spend on the reef the more you will see.
Big Cave – Depth:15m to 18m
Description: A ledge that runs perpendicular to the shore in 18m of water of the Water Tower on the Bluff. There are two caves in the area – one is large with an opening at in the roof is the one that is of interest as it is home to Raggies as they migrate up and down the coast. There are gullies and holes that are home to Flap nose hound sharks, frog fish, paper fish, moray eels, cleaner shrimp, razor fish and pipefish.
Additional Information: Interesting section of reef that can be reached by swimming from Bday ledges. If you see stripped grunter, be sure to look under the ledges in the area as there is sure to be a hound shark resting there.
Coral Gardens – Depth: 15m to 18m
Description: This reef was discovered by one of the pioneers of diving off Durban – Rikki Schick, this area has the biggest variety of corals, both hard and soft and sponges on the Bluff. The reef does not have dramatic topography – but the whip corals, coral trees, vase sponges, hard corals and thistle corals are the highlight of this reef. Weedy scorpion fish, razor fish, paper fish and the flap nose hound shark are some of the interesting finds on this reef.
Additional Information: Get your buoyancy right, get a powerful torch and get ready to scratch around!
Caves – Depth: 13 to 10 m
Description: One of the oldest dive spots on the Bluff. The Caves is situated off the two pillars of the old Bluff whaling station. The cave entrance opens up into a large vault. The vault then opens up into a tunnel which opens up into another smaller vault. The tunnel has been roped by the DuC divers which has no light penetrating the roof. There are eel cat fish, sweepers, cray fish, Natal Sea Catfish and the odd lion fish and turtle that in habit the cave.
Additional Information: This dive is not for ever diver… If you have wanted to do cave diving, the Caves will give you an idea if you are claustrophobic or not. It is not advisable to dive this reef if there is a large swell running as the surge in the caves can find divers getting knocked about in the cave. Get your buoyancy right, have a powerful torch and take cognise of the fact that there is a roof stopping you from doing an emergency ascent. Divers can exit the system at the end of the tunnel where there are two exits. One is an easy exit through the hole the roof, the other requires a bit of a crawl and shouldn’t be attempted unless trained in diving in overhead environments. The dive master will generally tie a marker buoy up at the entrance to the cave and retrieve it at the end of the dive. Be sure to take your deploy buoy as should you exit at the other end of the system, in case you are unable to navigate back to the marker buoy.